Strictly from an aesthetic sense, the design of the electric solidbody guitar has pretty much remained stagnant for the last two or three decades, at least when it comes to the output of the major guitar manufacturers.
The vast majority of solidbodies made today are variations on five basic body styles that were developed in the 1950s.
In fact, with the exception of a brief spurt of creativity during the Eighties, solidbody guitar designs have become increasingly conservative since reaching a creative peak during the Sixties.
Ernie Ball Music Man’s new St. Vincent model, designed in collaboration with its namesake artist (a.k.a. guitarist Annie Clark), boldly evokes the glorious space age designs of the Sixties when guitar companies in Asia and Eastern Europe boldly competed for attention and market share during probably the guitar’s greatest boom in popularity ever.
But there is much more to the St. Vincent than its unconventional appearance. While the St. Vincent looks unlike any guitar ever made before, its unusual design actually makes a lot of sense when it comes to comfort, playability, and tone.
With its angular edges and curved waist, the St. Vincent is sort of reminiscent of a hybrid of an Explorer and Firebird, but it really stands on its own thanks to its beveled lower bouts that converge into the point of a “V” at the bottom strap pin and make the body feel quite slim. The very narrow waist also contributes to the overall slimming effect, while the generous surface area behind the bridge enhances the resonance of bass frequencies and maintains exceptional balance. There’s also a tummy contour on the back for additional playing comfort. Overall, the guitars weighs just a little over seven pounds.
Materials include an African mahogany body and an all-rosewood neck, which is bolted to the body with Music Man’s signature rock-solid five-bolt attachment. The neck has a 25 1/2–inch scale, 10-inch radius, rounded C profile, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish, custom St. Vincent inlays and 22 medium high-profile frets. The headstock has Music Man’s signature four-over-two tuner configuration and is equipped with Schaller M6-IND locking tuners with pearl buttons and a compensated nut.
The body is available with either a metallic Vincent Blue or Black high-gloss polyester finish. Its hardware and electronics consist of a custom St. Vincent Music Man Modern tremolo with vintage bent-steel saddles, three DiMarzio custom mini humbuckers, master volume and tone controls, and a five-position pickup selector switch with a custom configuration that engages each pickup individually in series, all three pickups together in parallel, and the neck and bridge pickups together in parallel.
While the St. Vincent’s bold design is the sort of thing that guitarists will either love or hate from the get go, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this guitar when you pick it up and play it. Whether playing in a seated or standing position, everything falls perfectly into place, and the neck just begs to be played. Although the body’s upper treble bout joins the neck at the 19th fret at an almost 90-degree perpendicular angle, it’s still very comfortable to play up to the 22nd fret. And in typical Ernie Ball Music Man fashion, the neck provides a fast, smooth feel.
The St. Vincent’s comfort and playability is undeniably first class, but what really knocked me out is its distinctive voice and sonic versatility. The 25 1/2–inch scale provides alluring twang and low-end definition, yet the strings don’t feel as taut as they do on certain other models with the same scale length. The DiMarzio humbuckers deliver tones that fall between the snap and snarl of P-90s and the warmth and soul of PAF humbuckers. The tone is like a hybrid of Firebird and a big, fat bluesy Strat, with an additional layer of sonic richness and depth.
The St. Vincent can produce round, percussive twang, but it can also sing sweetly with a touch of overdrive and the tone control backed off a touch. I particularly liked each pickup’s separate series setting revealed a distinct tonal character, but I also loved the full-frequency assault of engaging all three pickups at once in parallel, which has an aggressive personality all unto itself.
STREET PRICE $1,899
MANUFACTURER Ernie Ball Music Man, music-man.com
• Three DiMarzio custom mini humbuckers are wired in a custom configuration to provide a wide variety of distinctive series and parallel tones.
• Bevels, contours, and an unusually slim waist contribute to the guitar’s comfortable and surprisingly well-balanced feel.
• The custom St. Vincent Music Man Modern tremolo maintains thick, rich tone and produces classic vintage whammy bar twang while remaining perfectly in tune.
• The all-rosewood neck has a 25 1/2–inch scale and 22 medium high-profile frets.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Music Man St. Vincent model may look outrageously unorthodox, but it is an intelligently designed guitar that is wonderfully comfortable to play and tonally versatile.